Woman seeks to withdraw guilty plea in death of toddler
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A Winnipeg woman accused of fatally injuring her two-year-old stepson knew what she was doing when she agreed to plead guilty to manslaughter and should not be allowed to withdraw her plea, a judge was told Wednesday.
Victoria Reane Thiessen, 23, entered a guilty plea to the March 2020 killing over a year ago, but is fighting to withdraw it, arguing she was pressured by police and her former lawyers and was not properly informed about the impact of her decision.
Thiessen’s guilty plea came after “extensive” discussions with her lawyers and consideration of where she would likely serve her sentence, Crown attorney Daniel Chaput told provincial court Associate Chief Judge Tracey Lord.
“The choice was Ms. Thiessen’s,” said Chaput, who urged Lord not to allow Thiessen to withdraw her guilty plea.
Brett White was taken off life-support and died two days after he suffered a traumatic brain injury at his Snowdon Avenue home.
Thiessen was “feeling overwhelmed” as she cared for Brett and two other young children, and was separating Brett and another child when she “lost her temper” and threw Brett across the room, Crown attorney Debbie Buors told court when Thiessen entered her guilty in 2021.
Thiessen initially told investigators Brett had fallen or had been struck by an older sibling. Police arrested Thiessen two weeks after Brett died, saying at the time her explanations did not account for the seriousness of his injuries.
Thiessen told court last summer she suffers from depression and anxiety, and has a learning disability. She said during an 11-hour interrogation, police did not allow her access to her anti-depressants.
Without medication, “I get really anxious and I have suicidal thoughts,” Thiessen said.
She said while she told investigators she was responsible for the child’s death, that was not true.
“I just wanted to get out of there… I was so scared and anxious. An officer told me he just wanted to hear anything. I assumed it would get me out of there,” she said.
Thiessen alleged her lawyer at the time had negotiated a plea bargain with the Crown that would recommend she be sentenced to two years less a day in jail. She told the lawyer she didn’t assault the child but he “didn’t want to know what happened,” she said.
Thiessen said her lawyer told her there was a 50-50 chance she would be convicted if she took the matter to trial and she could face a sentence of six to 12 years.
A two-year-less-a-day sentence served at the Women’s Correctional Centre in Headingley would allow her to visit with her children once a week, while a conviction after trial would likely see her serving a prison sentence in Edmonton, with virtually no family contact, Thiessen said.
Chaput said Wednesday that Thiessen had provided testimony to court that showed she knew what a guilty plea to manslaughter meant and the effect it would have on her sentence.
“Her consideration focused on where it was she hoped to spend a period of incarceration, which was informed by access to her children,” Chaput said. “At the end of the day, that is what was important to Ms Thiessen… She understood clearly the impact of a guilty plea on the quantum of sentence.”
Chaput said Thiessen’s arguments don’t meet the high threshold for withdrawing a guilty plea.
“The threshold must be high, because if it isn’t, it will encourage and permit the vacillation of an accused between a plea of not guilty and guilty and renewed protestations of innocence, in turn which would cause great mischief to the court.”
The judge reserved her decision.
Someone once said a journalist is just a reporter in a good suit. Dean Pritchard doesn’t own a good suit. But he knows a good lawsuit.